The Bats – At the National Grid

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 4)

Reunions and reunion albums are usually not a great idea. At best, the band manages to not damage their legacy and at worst, well, there is no bottom limit. I came of age during the many Who reunions but never contemplated that the contemporary bands I loved would one day engage in the same behavior. But one after another they fell (and then reanimated):  Echo & the Bunnymen, the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Wonder Stuff, Ride, Slowdive, the Pixies, the Wedding Present. It’s disappointing, though somewhat understandable, certainly to the extent a lot of these bands weren’t able to reap monetary rewards the first time around. I did not begrudge the Pixies cashing in for their first reunion tour, and I loved that Slowdive got their due in the 2000s. And selfishly, I am thrilled to be able to see bands that I missed the first time. But to keep going after that? I don’t know. The Go-Betweens were a little different because I was not a fan prior to the break-up, so all of their material was new to me when I came to it. Ditto the Bats, who never even broke up – they just took a ten year break. And in the case of the Bats, most of their later material sounds the same as their early stuff; there really is no drop-off in quality.

What I Think of This Album

Of the Bats albums I own, this is the weakest. It lacks the immediacy of the others and I definitely found it to be a grower. It’s difficult not to attribute it to the fact that they had not been the Bats since 1995. That said, it’s not a bad album at all.

There are many annoying string scratches on the otherwise bucolic “Western Isles” – Kaye Woodward’s backing “doo doo doos” are super charming. “Horizon” chugs along with verve and a stinging guitar tone, though the melody is slighter than what the Bats usually produce (on the other hand, if you want a Feelies/Velvets type rocker, this is your jam). “Bells’ is where things finally come together – the old tunefulness and the wistful quality of Robert Scott’s voice return in a gentle number. “Single File” is a cousin to “Horizon,” almost motorik in its beat and with barbed guitars, it’s less about musicality than groove.

The seesaw continues with throwback “The Rays,” which could’ve been on The Law of Things, and “Things” is likewise classic Bats, with a bit more oomph behind it (reminiscent of Silverbeet-era work). Woodward contributes a song and I’m heartbroken to admit that I don’t care for it. But the album ends with a string of strong tunes. “Up to the Sky” flies like a kite, dipping and swerving with Scott and Woodward’s vocals and intertwined guitars. “We Do Not Kick” has a hypnotic bass part and delicate guitar work, producing a woodsy sound that, if anything, emphasizes the kick drum. Closer “Flowers & Trees” find Scott struggling to get the words out before the measures end, and if the lyrics are nothing special, this is the track where the competing themes and sounds of the album come together:  it is both tuneful and driving, melodic and droning, repetitive and mutable; returning guest Alastair Galbraith adds some very John Cale-like violin while Woodward cuts loose herself.

There is an unlisted 13th track, which neither adds nor detracts from the album.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Flowers & Trees” is a natural glory.

Release Date

2005

The Cover Art

Terrible. The color scheme is fine, in truth, but the image is ugly and the composition appears to be a bad Photoshop job.

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